Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: January to June 2016 - Zimbabwe

Updated 21 July 2016

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe remained fragile during this reporting period. In the first 5 months of 2016, the NGO Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded 779 rights violations, compared with 915 in the equivalent period of 2015. Data for June was not available at the time of publication, but we expect a spike due to a number of well-publicised incidents of party political violence, including attacks on rallies held by the recently formed Zimbabwe People First party, headed by former Vice President Mujuru.

The number of incidents of politicised distribution of food aid appears to have reduced in the second quarter of the year. This positive move has been supported by statements from the President emphasising the right of all Zimbabweans, regardless of political persuasion, to have access to food. Zimbabwe Peace Project reports suggest that government feeding programmes have improved their reach across the country, although concerns have been expressed over military involvement in food distribution.

Substantive progress on the alignment of legislation with the 2013 constitution remained slow. This includes the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which contain many provisions that have been successfully challenged in court. Despite this, the Zimbabwe Republic Police continue to use the legislation to disrupt meetings and make arrests. Omnibus bills making small technical changes to large numbers of existing bills have made some progress through Parliament.

Despite commitments made by the government of Zimbabwe, enforcement of property rights remains weak. Government bodies have, on multiple occasions, failed to respect the provisions of the constitution regarding eviction and demolition of property. In January a number of homes on the Airport Road outside of Harare were demolished on the basis that they were illegally constructed on land owned by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe. Residents claimed that land had been legally sold to them or apportioned to them by ZANU PF (Zimbabwe ruling party) and that they had legal electricity and water connections. It is not clear that the authorities had obtained the necessary court order before the demolitions.

Following allegations made by President Mugabe that USD $15 billion had been “looted” from the Marange diamond fields, the Zimbabwean government in February authorised the nationalisation of diamond mining companies operating on the concessions, including those owned by international investors. Civil society groups reported multiple human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean security forces in the security operation that followed. On 3 March, up to 15 miners were killed when a tunnel collapsed whilst attempting to evade capture by the police (Daily News website).

The police continue to fail to implement court orders which relate to land invasion cases, including specifically the Connolly and Rankin farm invasions. Further illegal invasions have been carried out during the reporting period. The UK government continues to urge the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that orders of its own courts are promptly and properly enforced, and to ensure that the rule of law is fully implemented in these and other similar cases. We continue to urge the government of Zimbabwe to properly investigate the circumstances of the seizure of the Westwood family’s business and to bring those responsible to justice.

While freedom of speech and assembly are protected by the 2013 constitution, in practice the police continue to use unaligned legislation to restrict the ability of political actors to meet and demonstrate against government policy. Meetings of opposition groups have been broken up by police, and political activists arrested. Police have also consistently refused to grant applications from opposition parties to hold rallies and demonstrations, whilst granting similar applications by the ruling party. Zimbabwean courts have repeatedly overruled these police refusals, notably in regards to large opposition demonstrations in Harare and Bulawayo.

Several independent daily newspapers regularly challenge government policy, but broadcast media remains tightly controlled. The authorities have not yet granted any licences to non-government radio broadcasters. Recent campaigns against corruption in government have led to campaigners being threatened, including by government Ministers. In April, President Mugabe suggested that the government was looking at copying Chinese security restrictions on internet access in order to prevent “abuse” of the internet.

On 25 May, President Mugabe announced an amnesty for more than 2,000 prisoners, including the entire female prison population, except for those serving life sentences or on death row.

The abduction and disappearance of human rights defender, Itai Dzamara, in March 2015 remains of serious concern. The Zimbabwean government, which denies any knowledge of his whereabouts, has failed to carry out an effective investigation into his disappearance, contravening a direct High Court order. The UK, wider international community, and civil society organisations continue to raise his case, and urge the government to do everything possible to locate him. In June, Patson Dzamara, brother of Itai, was arrested along with a group of protestors on charges of theft during a peaceful protest in the centre of Harare. He was subsequently released on bail.

The UK government continues to work toward its manifesto commitment to improve human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. The British Embassy in Harare and ministers proactively lobby the government of Zimbabwe on these issues whenever the opportunity arises. We remain one of the biggest donors of bilateral development assistance. We work closely with international partners, including the EU, which issued a statement in March on the disappearance of Itai Dzamara, and in June on central government interference in local government.